Monday, November 11, 2013

Coming out of my closet

Have you guys seen this TED talk from Ash Beckham? You should watch it before you read my post. :)

"All a closet is, is a hard conversation."

I think most agnostic Mormons have probably been in a closet to one degree or another. I'm a really open, "take me as I am" kind of person, but even I lived in an agnostic closet for a few years. When my husband and I first stopped attending church, we didn't tell anyone outside of our immediate families (and "telling" might be a strong word for what we really did with our families, which was more like just letting it spread) for about two years. We didn't tell some of our very closest friends. For TWO YEARS. I didn't openly discuss it with my best friend--who also happens to be my sister-in-law--for THREE YEARS.

It wasn't because we were ashamed. I've never been ashamed of my status in the church, whatever it has been. It was because of what Ash Beckham says--we were nervous about our friends' reactions. Now, I have never been friends with the kinds of Mormons who would cut off their relationship with me over beliefs. I tend not to choose a-holes for my friends. So I wasn't afraid of losing my friends. But I think I was afraid that their opinions of me would change. Indeed, I believe many opinions of me did change, if only a little bit. Some of my friends actually looked up to me, especially in high school when I was super duper righteous. I was nervous about the letdown.

I was also nervous about how people would judge the testimony that I had lost, the one that they had admired. I was afraid of people judging my old faith as insufficient or unauthentic. My previous faith was genuine and that genuineness was important to me. I didn't want it questioned.

I was afraid of people's assumptions about my reasons for leaving the church. Mormons have a tendency to assume that you're sinning--or want to be sinning--if you choose to leave. I was afraid that everyone would think I was that weak and shallow. As if I would throw away the very structure of my life, something that formed me, something i loved, something I had dedicated actual years of my life to building that I could drink a margarita every now and then? I don't think so.

The other assumption people like to make about those who leave the church is that they were somehow offended. I was afraid that my friends might think I was that petty. First of all, I really don't get offended that easily to begin with. But mostly, again, I wouldn't throw away something important to me over something someone ELSE did. I like to believe my character is stronger than that.

I think I wanted to avoid people's efforts to reactivate me and the inevitability of them praying for me. I didn't want anyone to try to resolve my concerns. I didn't want anyone's sympathy (come on, you know Mormons feel bad for people who have "lost their light"). I just wanted to believe what I believed and live how I wanted to live. And I wanted my friendships to go on as they were before, unaffected by my loss of faith in a gospel that played a role in most of my relationships.

But they were affected, because I felt like a liar. I was lying to my friends. I was letting them believe something that was no longer true. And just like Ash says, a closet is no place for a person to live. I didn't like tip toeing around certain topics for fear that I might have to fess up.

So I slowly started telling people. Facebook really helped. I got brave and posted  my "religious views" on it (you know, back when it had that option). At the time, I think I classified my views as "agnostic deist". I later abandoned the deist part. Some of my friends asked me about it, and I was happy to tell them my story. I despise feeling misunderstood (hence my blog all about explaining myself).

Most people were quiet about it. I assumed there were conversations. "So, did you hear Adrienne is inactive??? I can't believe that!" And maybe there was speculation about "what happened". Or maybe none of that happened and I'm just incredibly narcissistic. Yeah, probably none of that happened. But I've heard comments and conversations like that about other people, so I wondered if people were having those conversations about me.

And you know what? I had to shrug my shoulders. What else was I going to do? I was being authentic. Honest. Me. I can't apologize for that. And it felt better than living in my agnostic closet.

I like how Ash gives people the benefit of the doubt when they react to her. Starting with the little girl in the diner, and on to her parents' friends at her sister's wedding, when people are trying to understand her or be supportive, she accepts that graciously, because she's accepting their intentions, regardless of the awkward expression of those intentions. The little girl just wanted to know if she was a boy or a girl. Her parents' friends just wanted to tell her, "Hey, we accept you and love you, even though you're telling us something that we know you were afraid to tell us, and even though maybe this information makes us a little uncomfortable. We love you. We accept you."

I really believe that most people in our lives will react like this when we come out of our closets. They accept us. They love us. They try to express that in whatever awkward ways they can muster. They might be uncomfortable. They might even be devastated. But once they recover from that (which, admittedly, can take some time), if they're being totally honest, I think even they are happy to have us living out in the open.

And then our relationships can become as authentic as we are.

When I finally brought it up with my best friend (of 20 years!), she was so relieved that I did. Obviously she knew everything (since she's also my sister-in-law--remember that letting it spread thing?), and it kind of hurt her that I had never brought it up, that I hadn't opened up that part of myself to her. She didn't want to make me uncomfortable, though, so she just waited for me. She was, of course, incredibly accepting. And I was surprised by how much she really understood where I was coming from. Our relationship finally went back to being truly authentic, and it was so refreshing. Oh, and it wasn't as different as I feared it would be.

Unfortunately, some people may not react with love, acceptance, or understanding. That's their problem. It might be difficult for us and it might make relationships hard, but it's their issue. All we can offer to any relationship is ourselves--our real selves. If someone rejects that, then they reject it. But you can't have a real relationship that involves fake people.


  1. I feel dumb posting this - but I like to show off how right I am sometimes and want you to know that I never thought those things you were afraid people were thinking. Your best friend really is the the most incredible person - I'm glad that you both still have each other.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Adrienne. My experience has been much the same, except that my SIL has shunned me. It's taken me 10 years not to care. I do agree that being honest about who you are and how you have changed is good for everyone involved. It eases your own stress, obviously, but it also is good for letting those close to you in on something really definitive in your life. Even if they don't take it well, it's better for them to experience this news.

  3. Wow, I just can't say how happy I am to have found your blog and read your words. Someday, my agnostic side will have to come out, but I have to live in the closet for now. It really sucks in here.

  4. I think the hardest part for me is discussing this with my family and knowing the pain it will cause to my mom. As a kid, I had two brothers who "lost their light" (as you put it), and as I was always the "good kid" I experienced fully my mother's grief at the way my brothers chose to live their lives. She used to call me her Nephi. So I know that fessing up will devastate her, and I don't know if I can handle that.

    I'm also going to church every week to help my wife with the kids, and I hate the way people assume things about me, just because I am there and dressed in churchy clothing. I hate having to say "no thanks" all the time and feeling the pressure to explain myself. And then having to deal with the further assumptions (that maybe I'm sinning, or have doctrinal questions, or whatever), the attempts to resolve my concerns, and so forth. I really just want to be left alone. But I don't have that option right now. I'm there every week, and I can't just ignore it.

    We moved into a new ward recently, and I am trying to be more up front with people, but it's hard. I'm very non-confrontational, and I hate feeling like people are disappointed in me. I have debated about trying to talk to the bishop and let him know my situation, but I keep wondering if that would help or hurt and then I chicken out.

    1. I totally understand the fear of causing your mom pain. That was my biggest "coming out" challenge. I was like you, "the good kid". My siblings caused my mom a lot of spiritual pain and grief. I ended up writing her a three-page letter to explain where I was coming from. I felt like she deserved to know where I was at, in detail. She never acknowledged my letter. She went on as if she had never read or even received it. That was pretty harsh. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to understand that she was in great pain and wasn't able to communicate that directly, for whatever reason. But it was still hard for me.

      My mom was mostly in denial (still is, actually) about my faith status. She kept giving us Book of Mormon calendars and other Mormony gifts for Christmas every year. Very frustrating. I have finally accepted the fact that she and I will simply never have the kind of relationship where we can talk openly about faith. She is thrilled that I'm [trying to] go to church. But she acts as if I never left. And when I get blunt with her, and tell her that I don't actually believe stuff, she insists that "it will come". I just have to roll my eyes. :)

      I'm so sorry that you're in that hard place where you can't quite "come out", but you are also growing uncomfortable in your closet. I have found that much of the discomfort disappears once I at least let people know that I'm not the kind of Mormon I might look like on the outside. For example, today I wore pants to church. That helps. :)

      Seriously, though, even telling people, "No, thanks. I'd rather not say the prayer" can have an impact. There is definitely discomfort, don't get me wrong! But over time, people will learn to accept you for the kind of Mormon you are. I'm actually looking forward to my opportunity to stand up in my new ward (probably in testimony meeting) and put myself out there. I'm not ready to do it quite yet, but I know it will be such a relief when I do. Because like you, I feel the assumptions. I'm a lady who shows up inconsistently, with kids and no husband, but I have talked about my mission and it's clear that I'm a well-seasoned Mormon. It was just so liberating in my last ward to finally come out. After that, I felt like I could make comments in Sunday School and Relief Society--honest comments, from my perspective--and people really knew where I was coming from. I didn't feel weird when people said that they missed me at church on Sunday. It was just really, really nice.

      Good luck finding the right time and way to come out. It is so blasted complicated!

    2. I have been making progress in the past few weeks. I have talked to my elder's quorum president and bishop recently, and both meetings went pretty well, I thought. I have been checking out some of your links and found a lot of the information at to be really helpful. So thanks again, and I'm looking forward to your next post.

  5. Thanks Adrienne. It has been almost two years since I left the Church, and I'm still not "out of the closet" except with my local ward (thousands of miles away from where I grew up), and my parents, siblings, and a few other relatives. I've only talked with a few of them; most just heard through the grapevine or saw me wearing something not garment-appropriate. (And I didn't even have the courage to wear what really I wanted to wear.) I am working on being authentic in other ways too, and over time I'm getting more comfortable with the idea of letting the grenade fall. The closet is no place for a person to live.